Saturday, April 25, 2020

Peace Perfumes, The Seven Virtues: Doing Good While Smelling Good

I have been interested in The 7 Virtues Peace Perfume line since I first heard the story of its origination, when Barbara Stegemann went on Dragon's Den (British counterpart of US Shark Tank) to pitch her idea around 2010. The seed was planted when Barb's best friend, who had volunteered with Canadian forces to teach Afghani civilians how to source clean water, was wounded in an attack. Barb vowed to try in some way to help bring peace in whatever way she could to Afghanistan. She believed women could use their buying power for influence, and came up with the idea of empowering farmers who were growing orange flowers to harvest the oil, rather than the more common and lucrative crop of poppy flowers grown for the opium trade. Barb believed that by paying the farmers market value for their oils, which was more than they could make from the poppy crops, she could do her bit to help. Here is a link to Barb's initial pitch, which is both passionate and compelling.

Barb got her financial backing and was able to extend her business model of paying a fair market price to farmers in other war torn countries or countries hit by catastrophe and poverty, enabling them to earn a living and provide local jobs. She maintains that the quality of oils she is able to source in this way are high quality and the fragrances meet clean brand standards, as well as being organic and free of many known irritants.

In 2017 Barb got additional help when she was one of just ten women out of a field of 1800 applicants to be accepted into Sephora's new Accelerate program which mentored female entrepreneurs interested in the beauty business. The 7 Virtues line was rebranded, the perfumes reformulated and given brighter, jazzier labels to appeal to Sephora's younger consumer base. The brand also appeals to socially active consumers who want to use their dollars to help improve lives of those less privileged in other countries.

I don't fit their younger profile, but I appreciate that these oils were sourced by Barb working directly with the farmers in these disadvantaged countries. In addition to the orange blossom for Afghanistan, here are others:
-- Vetiver sustains farmlands devastated in Haiti's 2010 earthquake.
-- Patchouli provides Rwanda survivors of the 1994 genocide with wages higher than from growing coffee, thus providing money for shelter and education
-- Rose production frees Afghani families from the illegal opium trade.
There are more but you get the idea.

But how do they smell? I'll be honest. Even though I'm convinced of their mission, I won't buy something I don't like. I started with the Peace Blend Box, which has a small spray of the first seven fragrances. Another fragrance has been added that I haven't tried, Blackberry Lily which is a gourmand and I believe is exclusive to Sephora. I will also admit I can be a little bit of a niche snob, and if it is inventive and impossibly hard to obtain it earns my respect. But there are a lot of days I just want to spray a perfume that smells good and that I don't have to think about if I in the mood for it today.

These aren't complex scents but the oils seem of good quality, something the nose just seems to discern, and some of the scents definitely have that "mood lifting" feeling. I enjoyed wearing them and I will give short impressions of each perfume, and if anyone is interested, I have listed them in descending order, starting with my favorites.

Jasmine Neroli

Jasmine Neroli surprised me with its opening. I love the scent of jasmine and find its fragrance very uplifting. I have both fragile and heavy-hitting jasmine perfumes in my collection, but this perfume manages to differentiate itself. I smell a soft amber in the opening; it smells soft and plush, like jasmine sprigs buried inside a cashmere shawl. Anyone who finds jasmine too "in your face" should try this version. The amber almost has a powdery musk smell and it comes across very gently. The neroli brightens the scent but is certainly not a big player on my skin. Texturally the scent feels puffy, like falling into jasmine scented cotton balls. Other notes include honeysuckle and labdanum. The labdanum adds a bit of sweetness and accentuates the amber smell. This is like a holistic anti-anxiety medicine. It says, "Chill, come lay in my scented cocoon!"

Patchouli Citrus

Now we go to the other end of the scented spectrum. Patchouli Citrus could be called "Patchouli for Dummies", like those "how to" books for Dummies that were so ubiquitous a few years ago. But that would be a misnomer because you would be anything but dumb for wearing this scent. Patchouli Citrus could be thought of as a patchouli for beginners as it is light and very non-threatening to those who have been afraid to dip their toe in the Patchouli pool. But I love patchouli and I find this a great representation of this note. The citrus is a nice touch, brightening up what can be a darker scent. At first spray I get the black pepper, the citrus notes, and a touch of floral in the form of geranium. The patchouli is green, aromatic, and a little sweet. When it goes into the base notes, the cedar and moss are what I smell most, along with the patchouli. This would be a great "blue jeans" scent, and by that I mean casual and easy to wear. 

Vetiver Elemi 

Vetiver Elemi is a pleasant and relaxing aromatic that I really enjoyed wearing. Vetiver is usually a side player in perfumes and many don't appreciate when it's the main performer in the perfume. It can come across as too strong or stringent but here it is gentle, and the mood it projects to me is clean and pressed. Vetiver Elemi imparts that fresh sterile clean feel I sometimes get with lavender, although its smell is very different. The bergamot and grapefruit give a tart opening, the the elemi emphasizes with a citrus and slight pine note. The vetiver feels green and not quite as dry as it normally appears. The scent is not big and sits close to the skin, but it makes me feel more "put together", as if I've given my hair a brush and ironed my shirt, rather than just spraying a perfume.

Orange Blossom

This was the scent that launched the brand, although it may have been reformulated for the Sephora rebranding. It opens with a lot of citrus, as if you've dug your fingernails into the skin of the fruit as you try to peel it open. The orange blossom flower comes in and smells very natural. I have a lemon tree in my backyard so I know the natural scent when it blooms, and this is very similar. The scent stays pretty true to this model during its wear on my skin. It is lovely while it lasts, but it doesn't last as long as the previous scents I've listed. Don't expect an Elie Saab or similar big orange blossom perfume. This is all about the nature scent of the orange blossom.

Vanilla Woods

This is a very nice vanilla, slightly sweetened with pear and caramel, warmed with amber, then grounded with a little wood scent. It smells comforting and warm, as I tested it on a cool rainy night. My favorite part of this scent is after it has been on the skin for some time and the sweet gourmand notes fades as the vanilla becomes more floral and soft. 

Rose Amber

This was another scent that surprised me. Because of the freshness and naturalness of the other scents, I expected the rose to be a fresh and realistic one. It is realistic and the rose note is beautiful, but this is a deep red rose, dark and mysterious. The amber gives the rose an opulent depth with wine and jam-like aspects. 

Grapefruit Lime

This is beautiful, bright, but fleeting on my skin. In their copy for the scents, it is suggested that you combine the fragrances, a la Jo Malone style. But I am not the least bit interested in combining scents, which is for what I think this one would be particularly useful.

There was not one of these scents that I didn't like. Again, they aren't trying to compete with niche scents and their price point reflects that. Longevity is average with the exception of Grapefruit Lime, which I've noted. Right now Sephora is having their twice yearly sale with the code SPRINGSAVE but you have to be in their Insider program and it is almost over.

If you are intrigued by this project you can get more information at The 7 Virtues website. You can also buy the perfumes at Sephora's website.

I purchased my own Custom Box of samples. Photos are from The 7 Virtues website.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Scented Journeys: Castle Fragrances In Prague

Are you like me, missing the ability to travel and wondering if the easy flow of visitors between continents will ever return? I know there are bigger concerns in the corona virus reality world we now live in, but it was something we took for granted — that if we could find the means, there would always be a way to get us where we wanted to go. I am taking a little pleasure in revisiting some of my trips of the past that I haven't yet written about. One of these scented journeys was to Castle Fragrances, or Zámecká parfumerie in Prague, Czech Republic.

Prague is a fairy tale city to visit, with its well preserved town square lined with beautiful old buildings, winding Medieval cobbled streets to explore and get lost in, gorgeously ornate old churches where one can listen to classical musical performances, and a plethora of quaint cafes and beer gardens. One journey that almost every tourist will take is to visit Prague castle, which is beautifully illuminated at night perched high above the city. The journey begins from Old Town by crossing the Vltava river, probably on the Charles Bridge lined with Baroque statues. The castle beckons from far atop the hill and visitors  must reach it by climbing what seems like a thousand steps.

About half way up, I was happy to take a break when I unexpectedly came across a sign for Castle Fragrances (pictured top) which was literally built into the wall of the castle. I entered into a small fragrant lair, welcomed by the proprietor, Franz Drozdk, as he motioned me toward a shelf lined with large glass decanters filled with pale golden perfumed liquid.

One can simply purchase one of the pre-bottled fragrances, which will then be decanted into a smaller spray, or Mr. Drozdk will help you choose your own blend by zeroing in on what fragrances you are attracted to. I had to, of course, smell each and every bottle, and eventually narrowed down my choices, but the proportions of the blend were handled by the perfumer. Below are the fragrances I eventually picked for my perfume.

Lambada was a spicy blend which includes lemon balm rosemary, sage, and lemon grass, and is described as a scent of sweet green herbs. Tulipian is a mixture of tulip, violet, and fresh apple, and Mr. Drozdk said that many women purchase this to wear as a spring scent. Last was a touch of Konavalinka, or lily of the Valley and some jasmine. The mixture went into a very reasonably priced spray bottle and I was advised not to use it for a couple of weeks, but to let the different scents macerate together. I sprayed it while still on the trip and thought it was nice, but when I got home it joined my perfume collection and I promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward almost two years. I sprayed the perfume, which is now fully marinated! It starts out a bit spicy and invigorating with citrus and herbal nuances. It is a couple of hours later before the floral notes really start to appear and they are full, rounded, and rich in their opulent bouquet. At this point I had not reread my notes, so I had no idea what notes I was smelling, and boy, would I have guessed wrong, as I didn't expect lighter florals such as the tulip, violet, and lily of the valley. I might have guessed rose or carnation was in the blend. The point is that setting aside the perfume like a bottle of wine allowed it to age, deepen, and become a far richer perfume than initially was apparent. I could still smell this on my skin a full four days later!

A concert at St. Nicholas church in Prague Old Town Square.

Prague offers so much to the curious wanderer. In normal times I would advise to go off-season as it is a very popular destination, but who knows when normal times will return. If you do get to Prague I would advise a visit to Castle Fragrances to make a personal memento of your trip.

Photos are my own.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Histoires de Parfums Opera Collection: 1831,1875, 1904 and 1926

Histoires de Parfums is a Parisian perfume house that was one of the early purveyors of niche perfume but they seem to fly under the radar. I have always thought they made high quality, interesting perfumes with a slight reminiscence to perfumes of the past. Gérald Guislain, founder, is inspired by literary characters, music, and poems, and has created a perfumed library based on these references. The Opera Collection was released in 2014 but I only recently became aware of it. The collection was inspired by five great title roles in the operatic world, and the year in the perfume's name is the date that the opera premiered. I have previously reviewed 1890 Le Dame de Pique, and now review the other four in the collection. If you have a yen for fragrances that remind you of perfumes of the past, then Histoires de Parfums Opera Collection could be your ticket to that era.

1831 Norma Bellini

I was not familiar with this opera, Norma, but it turns out that this is the role that Maria Callas sang more than any other, and some consider the title character's songs a perfect demonstration of the bel canto style of operatic performance. Bel canto in this instance means an almost athletic display of vocal prowess, and sopranos consider the part of Norma "the role of roles". This opera is set in Druid times and Norma is a high priestess whose story involves love, betrayal, and ultimately tragedy when she offers herself as a human sacrifice on the alter pyre.

Here is Maria Callas displaying these vocal thrills.

1831 Norma Bellini is a floral aldehyde in the grand tradition. Although the conception of the floral aldehyde dates back to 1921 when Ernest Beaux created the now iconic Chanel No. 5, it was still a popular style in the 1970s when I got my first real exposure to perfume, so this one creates a lot of nostalgic memory flashes for me. 1831 opens with a soapy, sharp, nose-clearing blast of aldehydes. You can also smell the rose. Fairly quickly the ylang ylang becomes apparent, and if you visualize color when you smell scent as I sometimes do, this  perfume presents as yellow, with sunshine radiance and that slight powder note that ylang ylang sometimes displays. After some time the jasmine, mingling with the rose, make their presence known. The scent hums along with the aldehydes, florals, and labdanum. Hours later the patchouli and benzoin give a slight spice and earthiness, along with the smoke of incense. The florals are still faintly present, but are more muted by the deeper notes. The perfume pyramid also lists vanilla and praline, but I never sense either of these notes. On my skin the perfume is a brilliant display of light and sparkle, eventually fading to a smoldering funeral pyre. Longevity is excellent.

1875 Carmen Bizet

The opera Carmen was written by French composer Georges Bizet and premiered in Paris in 1875. The lead, Carmen, was a somewhat shocking protagonist for this era. A strong women, she smokes, dances, seduces and betrays lovers, all with no thought to her honor or reputation. I found that the scent 1875 Carmen Bizet portrays a more masculine aura, as if defining Carmen's non-traditional feminine traits in a masculine context. If you watch this snippet from the opera, and picture yourself back in 1875, perhaps you'll glimpse how Carmen would have been a somewhat scandalous figure for the time period. You can also get the Spanish flavor of the music, an exotic setting which was further highlighted in the script by scenes with gypsies and bull fights.

1875 opens with a sweet, almost ambrosial amber. That this is an amber and wood perfume is immediately apparent. The initial sweetness takes it toward gourmand territory, but never totally goes there. A bit of citron and a slight touch of ginger join the amber note, followed by heart notes of bouquet of white flowers and saffron. I do think the floral notes add to the sweetness of the scent, but there is no particular flower that stands out. What does become more apparent is the saffron; a little dusty, a little spicy, and perhaps included as a reference to Spanish cooking. I can also smell the davana, and on my skin it has the fragrance of dried fruit mixed with a herbaceous scent.

Over some hours this will eventually wind down to base notes of sandalwood, incense, patchouli, and gaiac wood. The patchouli gives it a sweet earthy tone, and the incense a hazy smokey note. This perfume comes out at first spray big and bold, like the character Carmen, but it actually settles into a very nice but sedate fragrance featuring amber, wood, and spice.  I found 1875 very wearable but in my opinion it would smell fantastic on a man.

1904 Madame Butterfly Puccini

1904 is the year that Madama Butterfly, an opera by Giacomo Puccini, premiered at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy.  Probably one of the world's most recognized operas, most know the story of Madame Butterfly, the beautiful geisha that is ultimately betrayed by her U.S. Navy lover and dies at her own hand. 1904 Madame Butterfly Puccinii is all innocence and young beauty, opening with a delightful powdery iris. In the opening there are notes of mandarin and neroli but they are faint and fleeting. This is all about the iris, and then the heliotrope which makes this even more of a powder scent. There is cedar, sandalwood, and musk in the base, but on my skin this stayed a powdery iris through most of the scent life. The powder note here is more of the lipstick/face powder scent rather than baby powder. I am not a big fan of powdery perfumes, but if you enjoy them or particularly like iris you may enjoy 1904.

1926 Turandot Puccini

1926 Turandot Puccini opens with notes that seem a snapshot of a golden era. Narcissus gives a sharp and pungent opening, but it is quickly cloaked in the golden glow of fleur d'orange which softens it into an opulent bouquet. There are notes of pear and ginger in the opening but they are faint. The fragrance heart contains carnation and maybe it is this note that gives 1926 its retro reference, but it is carnation in the old way, blended with jasmine and earthy patchouli, rather than a single note oeillet, as has been popular in recent releases. It smells rich, opulent, and luscious. Eventually leather, amber, and incense mix with the florals to give a deep allure. The tenacity of this perfume is amazing. The notes change and evolve for several hours and I could still smell it on my wrists a day later.

Turandot is a brutal Princess who challenges suitors with three riddles, and if they can't answer correctly they will pay with their life. While the perfume isn't as bloodthirsty as the Princess, thank goodness, it does show both power and tenacity. Ultimately the floral notes succumb to the base notes of leather and incense, however we can still faintly smell that rich bouquet of flowers, thrown to the diva after her stirring performance.

Here are my quick takes on each of these, in case you don't have the patience to read all this.

1831 - a diva, pyrotechnic in prowess until the smoldering end
1875 - opens with a bang, but then goes all warm and cozy
1890 - an Oriental leather, that moment when the curtain parts and the anticipation builds for the grand event
1904 - a perfume of quiet innocence
1926 - the stage is covered with bouquets that waft a sweet and honeyed fragrance

If these scents interest you, Histoires de Parfums has a great sample pack at a reasonable price. They give you  4 ml of each scent so you can really test it several times. Order here.

Two photos from Histoires de Parfums website. All opera posters are google images. for videos. I bought my own sample pack of perfumes.